Players arrive at the Browns in a variety of methods. Up front is the NFL college draft. Next is a trade with another team. In today’s game, there is also the free-agency angle or athletes who sign free-agent contracts to play once cut from other clubs. Back in the day, there wasn’t any free-agency so an established player either was traded or waived and then picked up.
The Cleveland Browns and the New York Football Giants were actually very heated rivalries in the 1950s and 1960s. The Browns melded into the NFL from the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) prior to the 1950 season. Cleveland had won all four years of the AAFC’s existence and subsequently won the NFL title in their first season.
In 1950 and their maiden season in the NFL, the Browns were placed in the newly-formed “American Conference” with the Giants along with the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cardinals and Washington Redskins. Before the merger with the AAFC, divisions were simply called “Eastern” and Western” but an agreement with the rival league mandated that the two divisions would now be labeled “American” and “National.”
In the Browns first season in 1950, both Cleveland and the Giants had identical 10-2-0 records which required a one-game playoff. The Browns won 8-3 and were off to the NFL Championship Game which they defeated the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 for the first of four NFL titles to add to their total of four AAFC crowns.
Browns and Giants Dominate Division
1950 also marked the first year of a very heated Giants-Browns rivalry much like the Browns now have with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals. These two clubs would share the same division from 1950 until 1966. In that time span, the Browns won the division nine times with four-second place stints while the Giants took home six first place finishes and four-second place slots. During this same period, the Browns played for the NFL title an amazing nine times and took home four trophies while the Giants competed in the Championship Game five seasons and captured one title. That means in this 17-year span, the Giants or Browns won the division 15 stanzas.
In fact, the 1958 NFL Championship Game entitled “The Greatest Game Ever Played” pitted the Giants against the Baltimore Colts. It was the Browns that the Giants had to defeat in the divisional playoff which placed them in that title game.
During this period, the Eagles had moderate success while the Redskins were perennial doormats and took the Cowboys quite a few seasons to finally become relevant. All the while the owners of the Giants, Jack and Wellington Mara, were good friends with Art Modell, the Browns’ owner. They often vacationed together in the off-season with their wives.
The on-field war with Giants middle linebacker Sam Huff and Browns’ running sensation Jim Brown was legendary in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. This began in Brown’s rookie season of 1957. In the final game of the season, Giants defensive coordinator Tom Landry instructed Huff that Brown was his sole responsibility. Brown gained only 78 yards. In the next three seasons, Brown carried 119 times for 472 yards and three TDs against Huff and the Giants. Against every other club in the league, he scored 37 TDs and rushed for 3,326 yards. It may be said that Jim Brown is the reason Sam Huff is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Browns Who Became Giants and Vice Versa
Several players came over from the Browns to the Giants. DT Dick Modzelewski was a key defensive piece of the Giants puzzle when the Giants won the league in 1956. After his decline, he was shipped off to the Browns where he played another three seasons. Another good DT was Jim Kanicki who was taken in the second round by Cleveland in 1963. He played for New York from 1970-1971. WR Clifton McNeil was drafted by Cleveland in 1964 and came over to the Giants in 1970 to play out his last two seasons. Giants’ great WR Homer Jones was traded to the Browns in 1970 for RB Ron Johnson and Kanicki. Johnson became the first Giant running back to top 1,000 yards in a season and played six years for Big Blue.
Other players who have the Browns-Giants connection include RB Joe Morris, LB Pepper Johnson, K Matt Stover, RB Lee Rouson and TE Mark Bavaro. One other association includes Coach Bill Belichick.
Plus, there was one player who was supposed to become a Brown yet never did: QB Phil Simms.
Simms captured two Super Bowl victories while with the Giants with one as the starter. Belichick was the defensive coordinator with the Giants and wanted Simms as his signal caller once he became the Browns head coach although Vinny Testaverde was already entrenched as the number one QB. Simms was already one season out of football and an ESPN studio analyst for NFL games on Sundays.
Simms, then 39, came to Cleveland and looked over the facilities with his agent David Fishof and the Browns’ director of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Simms left town without a deal but returned with Fishof to iron out a contract. But what soured the deal was the fact that Simms thought he had an opportunity to compete for the starting QB job yet was told the club only wanted him as a backup to Testaverde. Another factor was that the Browns’ offer was just shy of $1 million on a one-year deal whereas Simms countered with $3 million over two years and most of it up front.
The Browns wanted to sign Simms and made every effort to ink the former Super Bowl MVP. Instead, he signed a three-year deal with NBC and announced his playing days were over. But for only a brief period, another Browns-Giants connection appeared imminent.